We need more role models in STEM: Meet Kari Hyll

Born and raised in Sweden, Dr Kari Hyll is an imaging spectroscopist with a burning passion for planetary science. Kari is currently a Research Associate in Earth Observation in the Geography Department at King’s College London. The Wildfire Research Team at King’s College London focuses on global satellite-based wildfire monitoring and Kari’s research aims to make the satellite data better at predicting the impact of wildfires on air quality and climate change. You can catch Kari on a soapbox on the 27th of May in London, with a talk called: “Smoke and Mirrors – Wildfire monitoring in a warming world”


SS: How did you get to your current position?

KH: I’m an Astronomer-turned-Engineer-turned-Geographer. I started out with an MSc in Astronomy and then stumbled into a PhD in Production Metrology – basically optical measurements applied to industrial production. After my PhD I wanted to merge my different skillsets, and I realised that I could do that in Earth Observation and Remote Sensing. I lacked the network in the field that is so often said to be essential to success, but what I found is that a diverse background, technical skills, and a few publications can get you far.


SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?

KH: Ever since I was a child I’ve felt drawn to Space. I loved to learn new things and decided when I was fourteen that I was going to study Astronomy. I was the first of my extended family to get a PhD and only the second to attend university at all, but my parents were very supportive and believed in me. Since then, I’ve followed what interests me. Doing research is so stimulating that I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do.


SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research/work?

KH: I think it’s amazing how much knowledge we can get from analysing the wavelengths of light – the method that we call spectroscopy – and that we can do this on a global scale with the help of satellites and supercomputers. We can detect wildfires in remote areas and use the satellite data to predict how the smoke will travel and impact air quality in urban areas.


SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?

KH: During my years in Physics and Engineering I always felt there was a lack of role models. I’ve often doubted that I could succeed because I didn’t meet people similar to me who had. I want to show other LGBT people, especially people who’re transgender like me, that they have a place in STEM.


SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day

KH: Engaging!


SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture right now, what would it be?

KH: The work/life balance – the expectation that an academic should work 60-80 hours a week, or else be branded as ‘not dedicated enough’. Academics deserve time to pursue other hobbies or be with their families, just like everyone else.


SS: What would be your top recommendation to someone studying for a PhD and considering pursuing a career in academia?

KH: This might sound boring, but make sure to publish as many papers as possible during your PhD, ideally in different journals. And make sure that you have mental health support. Take care of yourself and believe in yourself.

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